Mollie’s story, ‘My father was a conscientious objector’

When I wrote about conscientious objectors in Sevenoaks earlier this year, I tried to convey a sense of how the men who objected and their families were viewed and treated in the town but any personal testimony was difficult to find. In the last week, I have been extremely lucky to find exactly what I was looking for in a book of reminiscences from Somerset.

Mollie Wren was born Ivy Florence Tester in 1912 in Sevenoaks to George Tester (1883-1962) and Emma nee Banfield (18881-1960). Known as Mollie, she married Philip Wren and later in life moved to Somerset. In the early 1990’s, Mollie, along with several other elderly women living in the Winsham area, talked about her childhood memories in an initiative run by the South Somerset Reminiscence Project, the results of which were published, with several of Mollie’s family photos included. Mollie died in 1996 and the couple do not appear to have had any children. Fortunately, her memories are clear and evocative of the challenges her family faced as a result of her father’s stance, as the family were abused, ignored and faced financial hardship.

image

George Tester and Emma Banfield on their wedding day

The 1911 census shows Mollie’s parents, George and Emma, living at 13, St Botolph’s Road with their son, George Albert (1906-1994) with George recorded as a builder. The family were active members of the Vine Baptist Church. By 1916 the family had moved to Cedar Villa, Cedar Terrace and, that June, George was mentioned in the Sevenoaks Chronicle in its report on the proceedings of the  local Military Tribunal. The paper noted that George

wanted to save life rather than take it, but did not object to non-combatant service, to which he was referred.

George’s military records show that he was thirty three and a half, five feet tall, and working as a painter when he subsequently  enrolled with the Non Combatant Corps in July 1916. That December, George was working at Newhaven when he was charged with disobeying a lawful command given to him by an officer while on active service. He was tried by court martial and sentenced to be detained at Wormwood Scrubs.

image

The family at Seaford Cliffs

Mollie recalled this these events in a number of interviews that were edited and published in 1995.

Father said no, he wasn’t going to fight. He just simply believed Thou Shalt Not Kill. He was sent with a lot of others to Seaford Cliffs to load food ships for the troops. He continued with that until they wanted him to load firearms. They all refused. So then we was sent to Lewes gaol and court-martialled. He was tried by Lord Salisbury, who was sympathetic to conscientious objectors. Even so, he sent my father to Wandsworth prison for a year in solitary confinement, and then to Dartmoor Prison for two years and seven months.

image

George (third right) in the workshop at Wormwood Scrubs

As a family, we were ostracised. I remember walking hand in hand with mother along St John’s Road. Two men, up ladders, shouted something abusive at my mother. She gripped my hand tightly and hurried me away. Father had said mother must continue to go to the Baptist church, although no-one spoke to her. I remember walking up the aisle to our pew, which was halfway up the church. My mother held my hand tightly.

A couple of teachers at Sevenoaks Council School were horrible to me because my dad had been a conscientious objector. They felt very strongly.

As my father was a conscientious objector, my mother had no government pay, and in the end she was virtually penniless. One night she knelt at the armchair by the cold grate in the kitchen, and prayed to God to help her. Even as she prayed the front door rattled, and she heard something put through the letterbox. She went through the passage and there was an envelope on the mat. No letter in it, but a five pound note, which in those days was a great deal of money. Mother never forgot this, and she always used to quote me afterwards: The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail. And it never did. Finally, kind people came to their senses and brought Mother sewing. She was extremely able. People would bring their sewing on the quiet to start with, but at least it came.

Lord Mons (actually Robert Mond of Combe Bank), who lived at Sundridge Place, gave Home Farm over as a convalescent home for wounded officers and their batmen. Mother became the sewing woman here. Her eldest sister, Fanny, became cook-housekeeper, and my uncle became head cowman.

There was no shortage of food there, despite the war. My aunt was a typical cook of that generation: a large lady in a blue-print dress and snow-white apron, with her lovely hair brushed back. I can see her now, standing at the kitchen table with enormous tin plates covered in pastry, and a gallipot of jam clasped to her bosom, ladling jam onto these plates. Then they were cut in six for the wounded soldiers. They loved her pastry.

Not only was  I spoiled by my aunt, but by the soldiers, I walked out with them in the country lanes and into Sundridge village, where they bought me sweets. A lot of them were married and had children of their own.

There was a great bronze gong hanging on a stand and a stick with a leather ball at the top, I loved sloshing this gong. The soldiers tried to teach me how to work up a real crescendo, but I was too little. I just loved banging it! On Sundays we went to Chevening church in a horse brake, which had seats on either side. There was I, in the middle of all these soldiers, going off to church!

There was one ward for the batmen, and the officers were in another. I remember the long rows of beds and red blankets. One particular officer was very fond of me, and when he was he dying asked to see me. Mother carried me upstairs and told me to be good. We went in with the Matron. I remember being sat on the bed. He held my hand, and his hand was very hot. I remember that clearly but no more. 

image

Mollie and her ‘particular officer’ at Combe Bank

In 1916, my mother took in a lodger, a Miss Bunting. This lady was a brilliant dressmaker. She’d been very adventurous and gone off to Russia and become one of the Tsarina’s court dressmakers. When the Revolution was boiling up, she fled home quickly. One night she tapped at the bedroom door and said, ‘Mrs Tester, you must come quickly! You must see this!’. My mother picked me up out of the cot, wrapped a shawl round me and carried me into her bedroom, which had a wonderful view over the North Downs. And there was this airship going along, a German airship. It had caught fire: it was blazing as it went along. I remember my mother murmuring over my head, ‘Poor souls, poor souls!’.

Father wasn’t released from Dartmoor until 1919. I was seven. Mother couldn’t go to the station to meet him after that separation, so my brother and I went. I remember running round the garden picking a bunch of flowers. It was perfectly ridiculous: I was going to meet this unknown ‘Dad’. I remember getting to the station, and a cloud of steam; and out of it came this man whom my brother rushed to, because he remembered him. Then I remember being crushed, flowers and all, against this man. When we got to the garden gate, Mother, who had been standing watching in the sitting-room window, came to the front door. Father went in, and I was going to prance in after, but my brother hung on to the back of my frock and took me round the garden. He was more sensitive that for just a little while they wanted to be alone.

image

George senior, George and Mollie after the war

George Tester lived on until 1962, surviving his wife, Emma, by two years. His own mother, Martha Tester nee Letchford (1845-1946) lived to see her 101st birthday. Interestingly, she had been born at Chatham Barracks where her own father, Frederick Letchford (1806-1887) was Colour Sergeant with (according to the Sevenoaks Chronicle) ‘the old 50th regiment, known as the Blind Half Hundred’. He had been born in Sevenoaks in the house which eventually became a pub, The Halfway House, and at one point, home to Charlie Draper the subject of a recent post.

Mollie and Philip do not appear to have had children but I would be very interested to hear from anyone who remembers her or any family members who may be able to share more of her and her father’s story. Thanks to Mollie and the oral history team in Somerset, we have this insight into the life of a conscientious objector and his family in Sevenoaks during the war.

 

‘For gallantry and leadership’ – the story of Jack Whyntie MC

Cyril John ‘Jack’ Whyntie was an early recruit to Kitchener’s Army and had a successful career throughout the war. Clearly earmarked as a promising recruit, his bravery was to win him the Military Cross in the last year of the war.

Cyril was born on 5th October 1894 in Kentish Town, London, to William Whyntie (1860-1948) a draper originally from Scotland, and his wife, Annie Frances (1867-1938).

imageA young Cyril John ‘Jack’ Whyntie

By 1901 the family were living in Sevenoaks at 118, High Street. That year’s census shows William working as a draper’s manager and living with his wife, sons Jack and Fred, and daughter, Olive. Thirteen servants were also listed as residing at the premises.

By 1911, Jack was listed as an apprentice draper and the family now included two other daughters, Doris and Kathleen. Including servants and a companion to his wife, William Whyntie’s sizeable home of fourteen rooms housed fifteen people, including the appropriately named Bertha Draper, sister of Frank Draper who was killed in 1917 and is remembered on the Sevenoaks War Memorial.

image

imageViews of Whyntie & Co. in the High Street, Sevenoaks

The family were Wesleyans and William Whyntie often preached and involved himself in church business. Cyril had been educated at Avenue House School, Sevenoaks, followed by the Judd School in Tonbridge. After leaving he had been apprenticed as a draper to Frank East of Tonbridge. Like many Sevenoaks men, shortly after the outbreak of war he enlisted at Tunbridge Wells on 4th September 1914 where he was assigned to 7th Battalion The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment, one of the new regiments composed of recruits who answered Lord Kitchener’s appeal for volunteers. His papers show that he was 5 10 & 3/4 tall with grey eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.

imageSergeant Jack Whyntie, Royal West Kents

By the time Jack was sent to France with his battalion in July 1915 he had been promoted from lance corporal to corporal,  lance sergeant and then sergeant. As a sergeant in 7th Royal West Kents, Jack saw action in the early days of the Somme and was present at the capture of  Trones Wood, where three other Sevenoaks men, Fred Gilks, Lawrence Bowles and James Pettitt, all in Jack’s battalion, lost their lives on 13th July 1916.

imageJack Whyntie, taken at the Essenhigh Corke Studio, Sevenoaks

Jack Whyntie’s records show that he remained at the front until February 1917 when he returned home for four months. Perhaps it was during this period of leave that he sat for local photographer, Charles Essenhigh Corke, whose firm was situated on the London Road. The Essenhigh Corke studio had offered free photographs to serving men, and many locals, as well as men who were stationed in the town, took advantage of the offer. In 2008, five hundred glass plate negatives were found in the former studio. These, including Jack’s portrait, were digitised and put on public display before being housed at the Kent County Archives in Maidstone.

In 1917 while still a serving sergeant in B Company of the 7th Royal West Kents, Jack applied for a temporary commission, which he received in the June, being gazetted as a temporary Second Lieutenant in 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment.

A few months later in October 1917, the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported that Jack had been wounded

‘in the big advance, last Friday, October 12th. Going over the top – during which operation all his senior officers were hit – it fell to Lieut. Whyntie’s lot to lead his company on in the advance until he, too, was hit by shrapnel some distance on. Lt. Whyntie is now lying in a hospital at the Base, suffering from shrapnel wounds in the thigh’.

The incident was mentioned in the battalion war diary

The barrage started at Zero mins four minutes by Brigade time, and appeared fairly intense, but machine gun fire was immediately opened from guns posted close to our tape, which was not touched by the barrage at all. Second Lieutenant C Whyntie, the sole remaining Officer of ‘D’ Company, was wounded at once…

In its November 23rd edition the Chronicle was able to report that Jack had sufficiently recovered to be able to rejoin his regiment.

On 4th April 1918, Jack was again injured, this time at Villers-Bretonneux on the Somme. Once again the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported news of his injury, stating that on this occasion he had been wounded by a bullet in the arm. Jack was sent back to England where he was treated at the 5th Southern General Hospital before being transferred to a convalescent home for officers. By June 1918 a Medical Board concluded that he had regained perfect movement in his shoulder and was fit for general service.

image

Jack Whyntie’s Military Cross, still in family ownership

Later that year, by now serving as Acting Captain, he was awarded the Military Cross, according to the citation

For conspicuous gallantry and leadership near Ronssoy on the 18th September, 1918. He held his company well together in the dense mist and kept them straight on their objective. Owing to the failure of troops in front to take the Green Line the company soon found itself in the front line and met with heavy machine-gun fire. He at once extended his company and pushed on, thereby gaining two thousand yards of ground and reaching the Green Line.

imageJack as a captain in the East Surrey Regiment

After the armistice, Jack continued to serve, for a time in the army of occupation, before he returned to the family business where he became a director and settled in Sevenoaks with his wife, Helen, and two children, Barbara (born 1923) and Brian (born 1925). A popular businessman, local resident and a keen follower of cricket, he was often seen watching a match at the Vine ground which overlooks the war memorial.

imageAn advert for Whyntie & Co, Sevenoaks Chronicle, 1922

Jack Whyntie was taken ill suddenly when preparing to close the shop one Thursday evening in 1935 and died of meningitis on his forty first birthday on the following Saturday 5th October. He was buried in Greatness Cemetery. His brother Fred, who had served as an Air Mechanic during the war, survived him by only two years, dying in 1937, followed the year after by their mother, aged seventy one. William Whyntie, the patriarch of the family, lived on until 1948 when he died aged eighty eight and was survived by his daughters and grandchildren.

imageThe family grave at Greatness Cemetery

I am grateful to Jack Whyntie’s Great Nephew, Adrian, for sharing information and some splendid photos of his Great Uncle.

An officer of The Buffs -another story from the first day of the Somme

Edouard Herbert Allan Goss, 1877 – 1916

Temporary Lieutenant, 7th Battalion, The Buffs East Kent Regiment

In this second post on Sevenoaks men killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, I focus on one of the three officers from the town killed that day.

Edouard H A Goss was born in Burma on 13th June 1877, the son of Louis Allan Goss, Inspector of Schools in Burma and his wife, Marie Leonie Goss.

The 1891 census shows Edouard living at 4, Oak Field Grove, Bristol, with his mother, and siblings: Leo, Clement, Cecil and Marie. Aged four, Marie, is the only one not to have been born in Burma. Edouard’s mother was born on the French Colony of the Isle of Bourbon in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, now known as Reunion Island

Edouard was educated at Clifton College 1889 to 1895 and lived in Bristol until around 1901, leaving for Burma in 1902 where he worked in the Burma Forest Service, and was a member of the Burma Bombay Trading Association. He returned to the UK in November 1905 and by 1911 was resident at 20 Brookside, Cambridge with his parents and sister, Marie, while working as an assistant in the timber business.

His application for a temporary commission, dated 17th November 1914, showed that he could ride and had served for approximately five years with the volunteer rifles. He applied to serve with any Kentish unit. The officer who interviewed him at Maidstone wrote that “He is 37 years of age but should make a very good officer” He gave his present address for correspondence as Fig Farm, Sevenoaks, which he had run for some time. On joining up he passsed responsibility to a manager and thereafter stationed himself at the Royal Oak Hotel in Sevenoaks when on leave.

He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in December 1914 and was stationed at Purfleet for some time before being posted to France in October 1915. He was later Mentioned in Despatches. He was last on leave in May 1916, returning to the Front on 16th May.

Edouard was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Some service records survive and show that he was killed instantly by a shell. His friend, Captain Kenchington, later recorded the incident.

“REPORT BY CAPTAIN A.G. KENCHINGTON “B COMPANY”
ON OPERATIONS OF 1st July 1916

1. TWO PLATOONS DETAILED TO TAKE CRATER AREA

Before “Y” day I had collected and stored in No 10 sap necessary bombs and apparatus. I had put notice-boards directing runners to this point at the end of all saps trenches in the crater area.

At Zero (07.30), the three sections of each platoon advanced as arranged round to flanks and the other two sections with snipers went over the craters which were very muddy.

The left hand party entered the enemy trenches with only one casualty, the platoon commander Lieut E.H.A.Goss who was killed instantly by a shell. This platoon found the rear portion of the crater area quite knocked out of recognition, and soon overcame two
bombing parties and three or four snipers who opposed them”.

In the book Historical Records of the Buffs 1914-1919 by RSH Moody, published in 1922 it says

The Carnoy mine craters took six hours to clear, and six hours very heavy fighting it was, carried out under 2nd Lt Tatam whose excellent work was rewarded by a M.C. C Company was soon called away to aid the East Surreys, as were later two platoons of A Company. In fact, these two platoons of A, together with one of C Company, under Lts Dyson and Budds respectively, reached the final objective and held that part of it allotted to the East Surrey Regiment until relieved by other troops. Again it became necessary about noon to send up half of D Company to make good part of the final objective of the 7th Queen’s. This was done successfully, but the company lost its commander Capt GT Neame, during the operation.

There is no doubt that during the whole operation, which was carried out more or less as planned, our troops encountered far more oppostion than was anticipated; particularly was this the case at the craters, to attack which only two platoons were originally assigned, a number of men quite inadequate. The whole position, indeed, proved to be a very strong one, consisting of four lines.

The batttalion lost the following casualties on this day:

Killed:

Capt G T Neame, Lts P G Norbury and E H A Goss and 2nd Lt J F Baddeley and 48 other ranks.

Edouard Goss was initially buried on the Carnoy Montauban Road but after the war his body was exhumed and reinterred in Danzig Alley British cemetery, Mametz, East of Albert, France.

In a brief obituary, the Sevenoaks Chronicle recorded that

He was very highly respected by all who knew him, embodying as he did, the finest qualities of a typical English gentleman.

He is remembered on the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation Memorial, in the cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Rangoon, Myanmar. He is also remembered on the Riverhead memorial as well as the nearby Sevenoaks War Memorial at The Vine.